SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Could you tell a loved one they don’t have long to live... or would you lie? If the answer seems obvious, writer/director Lulu Wang’s new film, The Farewell, is here to test your mettle, and along the way cement itself as one of the most effective and honest family dramas in recent memory.
Billi (played by Awkwafina, seen in last year’s Crazy Rich Asians) is a New York woman who emigrated from China in her early childhood, leaving much of her family behind. Now years later, her grandmother back in China is diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and given three months left to live, so the family decides it’s time for all relatives to have a very rare get-together. In fact, it’ll be the first time everyone has been under the same roof in 20-odd years.
To her surprise, and against all her wishes, Billi is told that she must keep her grandmother’s illness a secret from her, and that this reunion is under the guise of a (fabricated) wedding so her grandmother can have a final happy memory with the entire family. As Billi is told many times through her struggle to keep this secret, it is the family’s job is to bear the pain, and that’s what separates their way of thinking from the Western focus on the self. Nothing ends up clear-cut, as Billi tries to take some lessons to heart, while other cultural differences seem to keep her at bay, such as professional “criers” who help to make Chinese funerals appear more grandiose.
Billi’s interactions as an outsider to her own family are both awkward and amusing, without being flippant of the real emotion behind her dilemma. Much of the story is based on Wang’s real-life experiences, and that genuine inspiration shows. All members of her family, even the ones with little screentime, give that feeling of being shuffled from one distant relative to another at a large gathering, each with their own ticks.
While the movie works great on the surface with that initial “what would you do” scenario, it goes much further to question how the ideals of both America and an immigrant’s culture can coexist. The conclusions The Farewell comes to are simple but emotionally satisfying, no matter the audience’s background, and turns attention to the family we don’t choose, but are inseparable from our identity.